By Fidelis Nwangwu
Entering 2020, everyone was upbeat that the New Year would be good. But few expected the world to experience the kind of dramatic change brought on by the onset of the novel Coronavirus pandemic that, as at the last count, had claimed over one million lives worldwide. A measure of the optimism that attended the start of the year was reflected in the projection of the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) that global tourism would record an estimated 1.6 billion visitors by year-end, with spending estimated at $2 trillion. COVID-19 upended this and several other projections, not necessarily for bad in all situations. But for good or for bad, it altered the way people lived.
Whereas COVID-19 may have curbed physical interactions and geographical boundary-crossing, it has also exponentially helped to advance the way people think and do things, particularly in terms of using technology to serve humankind. In Nigeria, tourism has been one of the early beneficiaries of life during and certainly post-COVID-19, as embodied by the recently unveiled partnership between the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and technology giant, Google, with a view to promoting domestic tourism in Nigeria.
The partnership, as announced by the Director-General of the Corporation, Mr. FolorunshoCoker, on Independence Day, October 1, presents opportunity for tourism enthusiasts to get to know Nigeria via a new Google Arts & Culture initiative called ‘Explore Nigeria.’ He described the partnership as one of the first steps in what will be a long-term partnership between the NTDC and Google to digitise, preserve and share Nigeria’s rich culture with Nigerians and the world. ‘Explore Nigeria,’ Coker said, is not a stand-alone initiative. Rather, it is a holistic programme that will, among other things, incorporate “training and ongoing support for small businesses” because of its strategic focus on promoting domestic tourism.
As he put it: “Explore Nigeria is an online experience of exploring Nigeria virtually, an experience that will awaken adventurers, taking them on a journey into an authentic Nigerian experience that showcases the true spirit and essence of Nigeria encompassing our historic,cultural and heritage sites to sun-kissed coastlines, beaches, breath-taking waterfalls, natural springs, the grandeur of festivals, to our wildlife and magnificent plateaus.” He also added that, “whether it’s your first encounter with Nigeria or you are rediscovering our heritage, we encourage you to virtually tour the country by exploring over 400 photographs, 12 online stories, 10 Street Views of iconic sites and get travel recommendations from seven influencers.”
The interesting thing about this development is the timing, which coincides with the euphoria about the celebration of Nigeria’s 60th Independence anniversary, and intimates about the opening up of a new vista in the national experience, particularly one that speaks not only to our technological reality and uptake in this Century, but also the commercial possibilities it opens up.
The Explore Nigeria initiative can be described as a step in the right direction, considering the very many optimistic projections for tourism development in Nigeria. If anything, it is evident that tourism has a huge potential in Nigeria and the numbers are quite staggering. By 2022, for example, direct and indirect employment in the industry is expected to reach 2.9 million people or an estimated 3.5 per cent of total national employment, up from about 840,000 people in the hospitality industry and in the travel and tours sector, including airlines. Capital investment in the industry is also expected to reach N485 billion, with domestic travel spending hitting N151billion in the same period, according to the WTTC’s Travel and Tourism Economic Impact on Nigeria (2012).
While these figures might still look aspirational when compared with those of other African countries like, for instance, South Africa, which is expected to receive about 13.9 million visitors in 2022, yet NTDC’s effort are no doubt laudable. Under its current leadership, it is making concerted efforts to bring governments at all levels to the realisation of the importance of tourism to the drive towards national economic recovery.
For far too long, successive governments had relied on oil as the single most important source of revenue for national development. It only took the aftershock of recessions and global economic meltdown, especially between 2008 and 2010 for governments to take conscious steps to diversify the nation’s economic base. With time, successive governments began to look at tourism as one of the few priority areas that could help to accelerate economic revival.
It is therefore easy to share the enthusiasm of the NTDC’s Director-General in “getting the virtual celebrations started with the five experiences: Explore Nigeria with 7 local guides; Climb Mount Patti and learn how Nigeria got its name; Put your knowledge to the test; Experience the most colourful festivals and Spot a butterfly and visit the natural wonders.” Certainly a lot of work need to be done consolidate this, which the organisation seems primed to take on.
With over 7,000 tourist destinations and a myriad of attractions that include festivals, sceneries and Nigeria’s cultural diversity, there is no gainsaying that the challenge of insecurity must be seriously and expeditiously addressed in the country. However, in the interim nothing will be fundamentally lost to the anxious tourist, except that he would have to experience this through the virtual feast being prepared by NTDC and Google.
Over the years, Nigeria recorded incremental gains in tourist arrivals and the attendant increase in tourist dollars invested in the economy. From 2010, the successes recorded began to witness steady decline arising from insurgency and incidents of kidnapping across the country. While there are endeavours on the part of government to deal with the security situation, many can still enjoy the treasures of the Nigerian world through this unique digital leverage.
Allied to this is the issue of the development of infrastructure. Over the years, there has been a steady decline in the efficiency of the transport system, as evident in the declining number of local airlines and the glaring absence of an airline hub. The good news, however, is that the renewed efforts at overhauling the rail system may make domestic tourism more attractive. The government’s initiative at decentralising visa issuance to visitors to include ‘visa on entry’ would also help a great deal to boost both local and international tourism in Nigeria.
There is little doubt that the NTDC/Google Explore Nigeria initiative will breathe a new life to the development of tourism in Nigeria. For that reason, one can only agree with the position of the NTDC Director-General that the click-based initiative, which is both affordable and devoid of “bureaucratic impediments around its implementation will stimulate the tourism value chain that is primed to boost rural and urban economies and development.” With what is now in place, what will be your excuse for not exploring and loving Nigeria?
-Fidelis Nwangwu wrote from Abuja.